Night of the Living Lasagna

Could you survive three nights of raw organic vegan meals?

Part I: Live Food and the Fear of Death

As I arrived home with the bag of Licious Dishes, I was seized with two fears. No. 1: That my wife was going to kill me. No. 2: That were I to survive her attempts on my life, we’d starve to death anyway.

“We’re eating takeout?” she asked.

Err, yes, live vegan take-out as a matter of fact.


Apparently, if you heat food to more than 115º, you kill it, I said. Surely, you want to keep the enzymes and proteins, the life-giving water, and the healthful nutrients and antioxidants of your food alive.

“It’s raw,” said Barb. It’s hard to slip anything past her.

A sunflower-seed “cheese” wrap is vegan, and none of the ingredients have been cooked over 115 degrees.

Since I was still alive, having suffered nothing more serious than the marital raised eyebrow, I set about putting dinner on the table.

I thought the bok choy mushroom “quiche” might be better if it wasn’t cold. Not wanting to kill it, I put it in the oven at the lowest possible temperature, with the oven door open. The microwave, I was sure, would guarantee instant death.

“Quiche?” asked my wife, shooting me another eyebrow. “What’s this purple brown pancake on the bottom?”

Onion bread, I said, making little quote marks in the air with my fingers around the word “bread.” I was going to have trouble writing all this stuff up, I explained, because almost everything had to be in quotation marks.

Barb refused to be diverted. “What’s in it?’

It’s a dehydrated mix of yellow onions, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, Ohsawa wheat-free organic tamari and extra-virgin olive oil.

“And on top?”

Miso paste dotted with bok choy and mushrooms, some seasonings. Nothing processed, refined, pasteurized, irradiated or genetically modified, I added helpfully. The red dot in the middle, looking like a cherry on a cake, was a sun-dried tomato.

There was a moment of suspense as she lifted a forkful.


“It’s good,” she said. “Terrific, really.”


Here are some things John Heckathorn had to say in past months. Go to our Dining page to read more reviews!

• Stage
Honolulu Design Center
1250 Kapiolani Blvd.

“This is serious food,” served in a dramatic dining room.  “This was the most flavorful coq au vin I’ve ever tasted.”  “I hope Honolulu deserves” this kind of vision. 


Reviewed in the June 2007 issue.

• Side Street Inn
1255 Hopaka St.

“Instead of a fancy setup, you get your silverware and a pair of wooden chopsticks wrapped in a paper napkin,” but, “the food is upscale.”  Everyone always eats the friend rice, but try the oysters, the rib eye or the Nalo greens salad.

Reviewed in the December 2006 issue.

• Mi Casa Taqueria
3046 Monsarrat Ave.

“The location is a charming one, a stand-alone stucco building open to the street.”  “A splendid dinner, full of clean, direct flavors.”  Try the carne asada, mahi fillet and house-made corn tortillas.  The restaurant is BYOB.


Reviewed in the March 2006 issue.

My fear of death faded. The whole dish was a harmony of onions, since it came with a salad of cucumber, chopped marinated red onion and Nalo Farm onion chives—dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and raw organic apple cider vinegar.

“Isn’t all vinegar raw?”

This is unfiltered, unheated, unpasteurized, I pointed out righteously. So, of course, it still contains “the mother,” the strandlike enzymes from the original apples.

On top of that, the salt in the dressing is harvested from ancient riverbeds in Utah once covered over by volcanic ash and hence unpolluted by the modern world.

“Yes, but the good part is that the flavors are really alive. Maybe too many red onions,” said Barb.

The quiche was a meal for one, but I had a second ready to go. Living lasagna—which sounded to me like a great title for a horror flick. Night of the Living Lasagna!

The noodles were marinated strips of zucchini. The filling, spinach sweetened with tomatoes and sun-dried tomato powder. The biggest flavor blast was a basil-parsley pesto with miso, garlic and Red Star nutritional yeast.

The whole thing was topped with a thick layer of beige “ricotta,” which, of course, wasn’t ricotta at all, but a “cheese” made by soaking raw organic pine nuts, pulverizing them in a food processor and letting them congeal over days into a paste.

I didn’t mention that it also contained Barlean’s highest lignan flaxseed oil, because I didn’t have the slightest idea what a lignan was. It’s a phytoestrogen, a kind of antioxidant, and, having learned that, I still don’t have a clue.

However, flax seeds and flax oil are, at least in the current state of the nutritional art, supposed to be good for your heart, bones, hair, prostate and breasts (though presumably not both of the last two in the same person).

“The lasagna is even better than the quiche,” said my wife, “so fresh.” It was the tastiest, richest thing you could imagine uncooked. Even more so because it, like the quiche, came with a side salad—a sweet corn, grape tomato and mint salad. It was dressed with white wine vinegar, shallots and sea salt.

It looked good, with the corn bright as sunshine, the little slices of grape tomato a vivid red, the thin green stripes of mint. It smelled good, sharp notes of shallot and wine vinegar in the dressing. And it tasted wonderful—a reminder that the key to cooking is often just getting out of the way of the ingredients.

At meal’s end, we were craving sweets. Barb rummaged in the Licious Dishes bag and found—chocolates. Yes, it’s possible to make live vegan candy. These were made of Green and Black’s cocoa powder, which the company’s Web site asserts is from “fine-flavored cocoa beans” that are both organic and fair trade.

The sweetener was one I actually recognized, organic agave nectar. Agave is the same wonderful cactus that gave us tequila. Its syrup is sweeter than honey, though less viscous and with a lower glycemic index, so it produces a diminished sugar rush. It’s expensive and fabulous in place of sugar syrup in cocktails.

I’d neglected to put the chocolates in the refrigerator, which was a mistake. Without the stabilizers and emulsifiers of commercial candy, they turned into a lumpy chocolate soup, the lumps being organic walnuts. We had to use spoons—but we ate all of it, every bit.

“Well, we didn’t starve,” said Barb. “I’m full, but it’s a nice kind of full, not like sometimes when you eat a big steak and then regret it.”


Part II: Why Are We Eating Like This?

We are eating like this because my friend Pete Thompson had a heart attack on Thanksgiving weekend, 2003. He’s fine now, but that weekend was difficult for his wife Sylvia, especially when Pete’s cardiologist suggested she bring his will to the hospital.

For decades, there was no more gourmet couple in Honolulu than Pete and Sylvia. I used to corrode with envy when they returned from San Francisco, New York, Paris or Burgundy, with tales of the multicourse, extravagant dinners they’d consumed. They belonged to all the elite wine societies—and Sylvia was such a good cook she’d invite Alan Wong to dinner.

Licious Dishes owner Sylvia Thompson shows off her inspirations—fresh vegetables, and husband Pete, who went vegan after a heart attack.

But after that dark Thanksgiving, Pete, stent in place, decided he’d had enough of hospitals. Sylvia converted them to a vegan diet. “I was worried I’d never cook anything good again,” she recalls. She began showing up at jazz concerts and poetry slams with vegan dishes—and found them a surprise hit.

The Thompsons still dined in three- and four-star restaurants. They just ordered the vegetarian prix fixe. Slowly, they began to eat in raw vegan restaurants as well, of which there are several gourmet examples on the Mainland.

Finally, having been converted to raw vegan food by the lemon “cheesecake” at a San Francisco restaurant called Alive, Sylvia and her friend Becky Woodland (author of The Blonde Vegetarian) took the plunge, putting in six weeks of eight-hour days at the Living Light International Culinary Arts Center in Fort Bragg, Calif. Living Light bills itself as the premier organic raw vegan school in the world.

Having learned to “uncook,” Sylvia started Licious Dishes in the Dole Cannery Shops.

Licious Dishes is not a restaurant. “I didn’t want a restaurant, I wanted to spend evenings with my hubbie,” she says.

At Licious Dishes, you simply pick up a bag with five meals in it.


The five meals are $100, not inexpensive, but neither are organic produce, nuts and seeds. Sylvia uses only Ohsawa Organic Wheat-Free Tamari, because it’s made with non-GMO soybeans and because she feels many people are allergic to wheat without knowing it. It costs $72.95 a gallon. Highest lignan organic flax seed oil runs $28.99 a quart. 

“Good,” said Barb.  “But you should point out that you hogged the red pepper tortilla.”

Ironically, it takes a lot of time and effort to serve up food raw. It takes so long that you have to order a bag of Licious Dishes by Monday for a Friday pickup.

Only 25 to 30 percent of Licious Dishes customers are strictly vegan. Says Sylvia, “Mainly they are people who want to eat healthy and don’t know how or don’t have the time to do it themselves.”


Part III: Some Assembly Required

“I’m looking forward to this,” said Barb as I was assembling dinner the second night.

Everything in the Licious Dishes bag comes with ingredient lists and clear directions, but there’s some work to do. For instance, the avocado for tonight’s dinner was just a whole avocado, because if it were peeled and seeded beforehand, it would brown.

Half of the avocado went in each of tonight’s dishes, starting with the tacos. By now, you know I mean “tacos.”

The tortillas weren’t tortillas either. One was a big red disk made of dehydrated red bell pepper. It also tasted wonderful, with a sweet blast of red pepper.

The other tortilla was less successful. Smaller, thicker and a scary dark purple, it was made of carrots, zucchini, avocado, flaxseed meal (of which I was rapidly tiring), lemon juice, onion powder, garlic and cayenne. Despite that grocery list of flavors, it was bitter and unappealingly chewy.

650 Iwilei Rd. #170.

Meals need to be ordered on
Monday and picked up on Friday, between 12 and 5 p.m.

If you just focused on the red pepper taco, the whole ensemble was delicious. I’d chopped the avocado, shredded the romaine, crumbled the Zoom Burgers. Zoom Burgers? Small, dark purple patties constructed of walnuts, mushrooms, flaxseeds and so forth.

They had nice notes of garlic and sage, and considerable umami from a combination of nutritional yeast and miso.

But what made this really work were the two toppings. First, a fresh salsa of sweet little grape tomatoes, cilantro and onion, with a deft touch of jalapeño and the tang of lime juice.

Second, “sour kreme,” a thick white paste of soaked cashews. Lemon juice gave it the same slightly acid edge of real sour cream. It seemed just as rich as the real stuff, and much better than that artificially stabilized white gunk that’s often passed off as sour cream.

“Good,” said Barb. “But you should point out that you hogged the red pepper tortilla.”

The second of the night’s dishes began with a collard green leaf as large as a dinner plate. I’d never eaten raw collard before. It’s much less bitter than one would expect from such a deep-green leaf vegetable.

On the leaf you spread “cheese”—a thick beige paste, about the consistency of sticky peanut butter, made from sunflower seeds.

Onto the cheese went chopped (by me) tomatoes, cucumber, plus the other half of the avocado. There were clover sprouts, green onions and some dark olives, which Sylvia smuggled in from France, via her suitcase.

I rolled this whole thing up, fastened it with toothpicks and cut it into reasonably manageable pieces.

It was messy, alive, crunchy—and seriously salty. “I don’t care if this is the world’s purest sea salt, there’s too much of it,” said Barb. It’s a testament to how good and fresh and full of texture the rest of the ingredients were that, despite the salt, we consumed the entire veggie wrap.

“I could eat this every week if we could afford it,” said Barb. The kids, who filtered in as we were eating, did not share this view. “God, what’s that?” said my oldest daughter. “I’ll make myself some mac and cheese.”



Part IV: Hot Salad

The last night, my family had deserted me to go to the movies, where they were no doubt feasting on concession-stand snacks that would make a nutritionist shudder in horror.

Poor me. The only thing left in the bag was a salad—bok choy, crimini mushrooms, walnuts, red bell peppers, salted organic cashews and brown organic sesame seeds.

There was also a whole mango in the bag, which I was supposed to cut up and add. I like mango, and can manage a few bites with undue problems, but I am allergic to handling them. Just the thought of trying to peel one made me itchy.

The big bowl of mango-less vegetables looked extremely dull. I tossed on the “kung pao marinade” that passed as salad dressing.

Bop! Bam! Pow!

At first, I thought the dressing was too spicy and too salty. I took one bite, swore I’d never take another, and then immediately plunged my fork back in. It was hardly a one-dimensional or even a two-dimensional dressing: It was also sour (lemon juice), spicy (ginger, garlic, onions) and rich (sesame oil).

Powered by the dressing, I managed the entire large bowl of veggies, marveling at the balance of textures, the freshness of everything after a few days in the fridge.

Done with the five meals, I did a quick assessment of my general state of well being. I felt fine, but was I really better than normal?

No—but, then again, I’d had a steak at Murphy’s for lunch.

John Heckathorn has been writing restaurant reviews for HONOLULU Magazine since 1984. In 2007, he won a bronze medal from the City and Regional Magazine Association for his food writing.